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May 13, 2005

Garbage's angsty, stripped-down rock entrances fans at sold-out show

If you only know Garbage from songs like "Stupid Girl," "Only Happy When It Rains," and "I Think I'm Paranoid," then you'd expect lead singer Shirley Manson to be an angry grrl. Or perhaps, acknowledging her age, it is more accurate to call her an angry womyn at this point. While Manson's lyrics remain as angst-ridden as ever ("I think you're sleeping with a friend of mine/I have no proof but I think it's the truth"), the band itself, at least when seen live, is a completely different story. Garbage is currently touring after four years of silence to promote their fourth album, Bleed Like Me, which features such gems as "Why Do You Love Me" and "Sex Is Not The Enemy." They played a sold-out show at the Metro on May 4.

Even if some people believe that Manson should have stopped singing about teenage angst five years ago, Garbage retains a loyal legion of fans who are more than willing to follow them from venue to venue, and to begin lining up outside the Metro at noon—and woe betide anyone who so much as thought about taking up a fraction of their hard-earned space against the barrier—as befits a return to touring after almost half a decade of silence (the band even broke up for six months in that interval).

The moment the band strutted onstage (after a passable opening set by The Dead 60s, whose lead singer is definitely not lacking an ego) it became apparent why Garbage inspires such devotion in people aged 15 to 45. The stage belongs to Manson, and Manson alone. Her band mates—Butch Vig (of "produced Nirvana's Nevermind" fame) on the drums, Steve Marker and Duke Erickson on the guitar and keyboards, and Daniel Schulman on the bass—must have realized this awhile ago, because while they all wore black, she donned a bright red dress and fishnets and was almost constantly tracked by a spotlight as she moved from one side of the stage to the other. She dances and struts and drapes herself indecorously over her microphone stand (a custom-made one, it should be noted), and every once in a while she will do push-ups or sing while lying down, as she did during "Bleed Like Me," the night's only "slow" song, and she does all this with a grin on her face that suggests she's having a better time performing than the entire audience put together.

The set list was a showcase of songs from Bleed Like Me, as well as a collection of hits from the band's first two albums, with only a single concession to the band's third album beautifulgarbage, "Cherry Lips." Widely held by the critics to be their worst record, Garbage seem to have taken this criticism to heart, reserving the song for the encore and playing well-loved singles "Stupid Girl" and "Push It," among others. Whereas every song on their albums is a carefully layered composition, all that subtlety is lost when performed live; samples and loops are exchanged for guitars, so that "Vow" no longer opens with 20 seconds of stereo-delayed guitars but instead blasts straight at the audience as both Erickson and Marker play the opening riff, and "Only Happy When It Rains" is almost unrecognizable until Manson begins singing it. "Supervixen" loses some of its hypnotic quality as well, for the same reasons.

It could be argued that, between the inherent teenage angst content (and many people say that, given Manson's looks, she really ought to stop singing about not being "as pretty as those girls in magazines") and the fact that if Garbage ever became famous in the '90s it was because of how they sounded, it's not really worth the trouble of fighting scalpers on Ticketmaster to see them play live. But that is simply not true. Just because they do not sound live like they do on record does not mean the show was anything other than outstanding, a wonderful reminder of why this band and their Scottish, red-headed singer became notable in the first place.